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The rabbit hole of the self-help industry and its various pitfalls

The rabbit hole of the self-help industry and its various pitfalls

The rabbit hole of the self-help industry and its various pitfalls
September 03
12:00 2021

I first got into self-help around the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sitting inside all day, staring at a screen and never wearing pants made me feel pretty useless. To get out of the slump I was in, I ordered a few books on motivation and watched a lot of YouTube videos on how to be more productive. Within a few days, I was waking up at 4:00 a.m. and doing a breathing technique called “tummo breath” on my floor.

For those who don’t know what it is, “tummo breath” is a type of breathing exercise where you lie down and breathe in and out rapidly until you feel lightheaded. Though the guy in the video told me the tingling sensation in my head was my “seven chakras being aligned,” I’m pretty sure it was just the lack of oxygen going to my brain.

I never thought I’d end up doing ancient Tibetan breathing techniques in the middle of the night, but that’s what happens with self-help. It becomes obsessive. No matter how much of it you consume, there’s always another book, supplement or lifehack that will bring you closer to reaching your “full potential.”

This is what makes the self-help industry so successful. People get hooked on the idea of becoming their most optimal self and end up spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars in pursuit of it. Rather than being content with who you are, you get stuck in a perpetual state of feeling like you’re never enough.

Not all self-help is bad, and I’ve definitely learned some valuable lessons from it. The problem is the frauds, celebrities and scammers looking to cash in on vulnerable people. A lot of the “gurus” who claim to have the secrets to life don’t have any background in medicine or science. These are the ones who call themselves spiritual leaders, spirit guides or deep thinkers, which are all fancy ways of saying they probably do a lot of mushrooms.

One of the books I read over the pandemic was called “The Secret,” written by spiritual leader Rhonda Byrne. It is one of the best-selling self-help books and is based on the law of attraction. It suggests that your thoughts send messages out into the universe and whatever you think about is what you get back. In other words, if you constantly think about money, that is what the universe will give you.

Who would possibly disagree with that? I would say just about every homeless person on the planet. If I told someone who is asking for change at an intersection to think about money more often, they would probably slap me.

Self-help gurus like Byrne are modern-day snake oil salespeople. If this were 1827, Byrne would be selling jars of peach nectar out of a wagon and calling it a miracle tonic. She knows what most people want (money, health, wealth) and promises it for an affordable price.

Self-help gurus also tend to push a narrative that if you’re not constantly happy, there is something wrong. They make people feel bad for having stress or anxiety, and quickly sweep in with a product claiming to fix those problems.

Unless you’re a monk who lives in the Andes Mountains and spends their days in silent meditation, you’re going to experience some degree of stress and anxiety. Everyone has stress and anxiety, especially now considering the pandemic, price of tuition and lack of parking on campus.

I admire anyone who wants to make positive changes in their life. Just stay mindful of where you go to seek help and try not to make things a bigger deal than they are.

If you end up on your floor in the middle of the night chanting to ancient Tibetan Gods, you may have gone too far.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Jake Reynolds

Jake Reynolds

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